Today my friend, Deanna, and I were remembering two Christmases ago when we presented each other with what we called, "Countdown To Christmas", which had been the result of conversations we'd had about Christmas time always being so hectic. We had lamented that women seemed to do most of the holiday preparation with little or no help. We do everything from planning, shopping, gift wrapping, addressing and sending cards, mailing packages, cooking, baking, and decorating.....to the mundane chores of household cleaning and keeping up with laundry. It's too much for one person to successfully accomplish without eventually feeling used up and tired. Even though we have been making our families' Christmas plans for many years, we'd always wondered why we hadn't enjoyed the holiday season very much, yet we both loved Christmas. We knew in our hearts that even before the holidays were over, we'd be wishing it was January and that is not how we wanted our holidays to be. We tended to over-do and over-spend, then regretted not planning better.
Another reason we didn't always enjoy the holidays is that we over-expected. We had often strived to attain a level of excitement and anticipation we remembered having when we were children. We finally realized we had wanted something we could never realistically achieve. It's sometimes difficult to embrace the fact that we can never revisit those carefree days of childhood. But we wanted some of the feelings we had back then and we longed to possess that same joyous anticipation. No matter how much effort we gave to holiday preparations, life always stepped in and handed us healthy doses of realilty and we sometimes felt disillusioned and depressed. Of course it's fulfilling to provide a fun Christmas for our children and grandchildren, but where is our fun? Where is our excitement and anticipation? Is it possible to have those things as adults? We decided that it is possible.
My wise cousin, Jeanette, has a wonderfully descriptive phrase for what happens at holiday time. She suggests that families like to "step into Christmas". I love that description and I think it's absolutely true. Our family members seem willing to stand back and "allow" us to make all the plans and do most of the work, and they are very happy to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Perhaps if we made it known we'd like some help, they would comply, but we don't generally like to ask for help.
I realize what has been missing from my adult Christmases is having the pleasure of someone else taking care of the preparations, thus allowing me to simply step into the holiday picture myself. That just doesn't happen. It can't happen. I feel if I don't make the necessary preparations around here, there will be none - no tree, no gifts, no decorating, no cards sent, and no cookie baking.
It's not that I dislike decorating, shopping, and baking. Most of the time, I enjoy doing those things and I like searching for just the right gifts for family members, but the other things - mundane things - that take up my time during the holidays are what cause me to feel tired and unappreciated. It's as if everybody expects that I will be able to get everything done, and if I forget where I've hidden a gift or or don't get a certain kind of cookie baked, then I feel as if I've failed "Holidays 101". I tend to think I'm supposed to act like Super Woman around the holidays, but perhaps that's more my own perception than reality. I do know that the sky doesn't fall if certain holiday cookies are not baked or cards are not sent. I should add here, that my adult daughter has recently taken over some of the family entertaining and meal planning during the holidays and invites us to her home for Christmas celebrations, and I am extremely grateful she is so gracious. But there are still many things for which I continue to feel responsible here in my own home. I admit I'm a creature of habit and it's difficult to give up some of those very responsibilities about which I complain.
Two years ago, while sharing ideas similar to those I've just expressed, Deanna and I decided to put into practice something we had learned. That was, to make our own happiness. We have evolved enough to realize we can't count on anyone else to make us happy and it seems reasonable to assume we can't expect anyone else to make our holidays exciting either. We decided to initiate a "Countdown To Christmas". We each chose a total of 25 simple, useful gifts, wrapped them, numbered them, put them in boxes (seven gifts in each until the last week), and sent them to each other. The first box contained one gift for each day of the week for the first 7 days in December. We did this for all the days leading up to December 25th. When I opened my last gift - on Christmas Day - I found a beautiful Cardinal print coverlet Deanna had made for me. It was not a simple gift by any means, but one handmade and given from the heart and I loved it.
During our conversation today, Deanna and I marveled that by giving each other a "Countdown To Christmas", we had been able to restore each other's anticipation of the holiday season. We experienced the joy of opening one small package a day until Christmas, and we did so without buying expensive gifts or enduring exhausting days of shopping. Our offerings were not labor intensive and we found joy in searching for little things to include in our gift boxes to each other. We had a monetary limit and set a few guidelines. We were open to giving things we found around our homes, making things ourselves, or finding small items at thrift stores. It was the most holiday fun we'd had in years and we became excited at the thought of doing that again this year.
Today we vowed to revise last year's Christmas notebooks and begin listing our expectations for the coming holidays, along with ideas about how we could make them happen. We agreed we could further simplify our preparations and plan ahead for our holiday baking and cooking, as we did last year. We had prepared several cookie mixes and kept them in our freezers until baking time and pre-planned holiday meals by chosing menus from our collections of Gooseberry Patch Cookbooks. We had also set budgets for holiday spending. For the most part, we enjoyed a simpler holiday season last year, and though we did hit a few bumps in the road and spent a little bit more than our budgets allowed, we were happier for having planned ahead.